- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 8, 2018

Older adults with untreated hearing loss spend tens of thousands of dollars on extra medical bills because of longer and more frequent hospital visits, according to research published Thursday.

An estimated 38 million Americans suffer hearing loss but only 20 percent wear hearing aids. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore quantified how the prevalent disorder affects American wallets and the health industry.

“Older adults with untreated hearing loss experience higher health care costs and utilization patterns compared with adults without hearing loss,” wrote Nicholas Reed, lead author of the report and audiologist at Johns Hopkins.

Researchers looked at medical insurance claims for more than 154,000 U.S. adults over two-, five- and 10-year periods. Of those, over 4,700 people had hearing loss and incurred extra medical bills costs upwards of $22,000 over the 10-year period.

These costs were 46 percent higher compared to the group without hearing loss, the authors found.

The number of Americans with hearing loss is projected to grow to 73 million by 2060.

People with untreated hearing loss experience more inpatient stays and were at greater risk for readmission to the hospital within one month of discharge.

Also, the authors wrote, people with hearing loss are at greater risk for cognitive decline, incident dementia, falls, depression, reduced quality of life and an increased number of emergency department visits.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Otolarygology-Head & Neck Surgery.

The authors weren’t able to confirm whether hearing aids were purchased, privately or not, since the devices are not typically covered by insurance. Medicare covers hearing tests when prescribed by a physician but doesn’t cover hearing aids.

In October 2017, Medicare provider Humana announced it would make hearing aids more affordable for participants in some of its Medicare Advantage plans in about 34 states.

In 2013, the company noted, the average pricing for two hearing aids was approximately $4,700. The Humana plan offered to cut costs to between $399 and $999.

In the JAMA report, Mr. Reed and colleagues noted that there needs to be more awareness among clinicians to screen patients for hearing loss and identity treatment.

“This study supports the need for future research to understand the role of hearing loss on patient-clinician communication and the potential influence of hearing care, including devices and services, in mitigating the overall association between hearing loss and health care cost,” the authors wrote.

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